youth ministry 3.0, part 9

youth ministry 3.0 is the working title of a book i’ve mostly written, which is expected to release this fall. it’s an attempt to name where and how we’re missing the mark in youth ministry, and what needs to change in order to more truly live into our calling as youth workers.

we’ve decided to open up the book a bit and solicit youth worker contributions as sidebar comments, and i’m going to use my blog for this purpose. until late april, i’ll be posting a series of snapshots from the rough draft of the manuscript. i invite lots of comments — questions, disagreements, ideas, very short stories or examples, reflections — which will be considered as additions to the book.

by posting a comment, you are giving permission for your comment, with your screen name, to be added to the print book.

so, here’s the ninth bit, from chapter 4:

The church responds with Youth Ministry 2.0

This shift, I believe, is what the revolutionary youth workers of Youth Ministry 2.0 were responding to. With a passion to stay true to their calling to reach teenagers with the transformational gospel, a handful of youth workers began stepping into new forms of youth ministry to connect with teens in a changing culture. Relationships began to trump youth-y preaching, and youth groups sprung up; because, at the end of the day, what is a youth group other than a church within a church, a “youth church” that is semi-connected to the whole, but distinctly other?

Concurrent with all of this youth culture shift, churches in general were experiencing a major shift. Evangelicalism’s engagement with culture, and general culture’s obsession with both mechanization and business models of success gave way to rafts of new thinking in church, particularly in the areas of growth and success. “Discipleship” became the hot-button word, along with “church growth” and systematic measuring of everything.

So, when you’ve got a youth group that is (now) resourced and has an identity, and a church that is enamored with systems and measurements, the results are: Youth Ministry 2.0 allowed culture to inform models and success in youth ministry. I realize this is a fairly negative statement; but let me add that this is the kind of youth ministry I grew up in and loved, and the kind of youth ministry I lead as a youth pastor for many, many years. And we were convinced it was the best response to the culture we lived in. It’s a bit like that hot-seat in the introduction: I’m not exactly sure how we thought it was good at the time, but we were passionately attempting to live out our youth ministry calling amidst a general culture and youth culture obsessed with this stuff, and it’s what we came up with.

On a more positive note (at least partially positive), the key themes in Youth Ministry 2.0 shifted away from evangelism and correction , to Discipleship and Creating a Positive Peer Group. On a good day, in a good youth ministry, this was about helping teenagers, in a sense of community, form their spiritual lives in Christ. The dark side of this is the exclusive youth group that exists only for itself (which is, unfortunately, all too common).

Revolutionary ideas about connecting with teenagers in real ways got commoditized (my company playing a leading role in this), and Youth Ministry 2.0 became Program-driven. The sense was – and remains, as I contend – that if we can build the right program, with the coolest youth room, and hip adult leaders, and lots of great stuff to attract kids, then we will experience success.

In a sense, one could almost sub-divide Youth Ministry 2.0 into two parts. The revolutionaries who moved us out of Youth Ministry 1.0 used these programs and methods to provide a context for meaningful relationships with teenagers. But rather quickly, the programs and methods became king, and the only real measurement of success anyone in youth ministry cared about what, “How many kids are coming? ”

If I can be so bold as to choose a theme verse for Youth Ministry 2.0, it would be Field of Dreams 2:32:

“If you build it, they will come”

Nah, that’s not really a Bible verse. So how about this great one, the Great Commission, from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20a:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Youth Ministry 2.0 was birthed out of revolutionary positive intentions. And most youth workers (and churches) still have genuinely positive intentions, even though many of us are working with assumptions about youth ministry that are seriously flawed. But rather than spend our time attacking Youth Ministry 2.0, I’d like to keep our focus on the positive intent of youth workers who want teenagers to know Jesus, and want to see those teenagers grow as passionate followers of the Jesus they know and love. Which brings us to the point of this book, the current shift in youth culture that has made Youth Ministry 2.0 obsolete, whether it was ever a good idea in the first place or not.

7 thoughts on “youth ministry 3.0, part 9”

  1. Just wanted to let you know I’ve been really enjoying this series and look forward to the complete book when it’s available. I keep hoping to have something to contribute, but so far I’ve just been freeloading on your good thoughts. Thanks for them.

  2. Great section – I’m looking forward to reading more! For what it’s worth, I think your reference to the Great Commission provides the argument AGAINST Youth Ministry 2.0. The resurrected Christ sends his disciples out into the dangerous places of the world in order for them to make disciples. If I understand you correctly, YM2.0 was more about making the church building bigger, newer, cooler so people will come to church…but there didn’t seem to be an emphasis on doing ministry “in the trenches”. I like your Field of Dreams verse better…or something from 1 Kings 5 & 6. Blessings!

  3. I think that your commentary is fairly accurate. I am a youth director myself and experience the constant question from the parental advisors of “How Many kids are coming?” And this seems to be directly tied to how well I am doing my job. It is often forgotten that the gospel can be rejected, and maybe the fact that kids aren’t showing up means that they are rejecting the gospel……I think the statements about the program being king are very insightful. After reading your other sections, I think you offer great insights, but you can be more bold and pointed in your critiques of contemporary youth ministry, offer examples of the wrong assumptions that youth ministers believe and then offer the truth, so that we can see the contrast between them… Don’t be afraid to hurt people’s feelings, but speak with the judgment of the Spirit, my brother. For His names’ sake,


  4. I was true believer in “If You build it they will come.” It’s a wonderful truism in a world consumed by marketing our niches to get the desire outcome. The problem is it doesn’t work. I realize now that the IF YOU was me and not God. The great commission promises that God shows. God is missing in the Field of Dreams I build. By Grace God showed up in the stuff I built, but now I see it was really what God built that has made any lasting impact.

  5. I am a product of the shift from Youth Ministry 2.0 to, well, what could be termed Youth Ministry 3.0…though I’m pretty sure not many youth workers knew what exactly they were shifting from. There was just an elephant of uncertainty in the room, and even the youth were picking up on it.

    I clearly remember being a high school senior in my family’s church youth group. As a student in the youth group who was interested in youth ministry as a career, I had the privilege to meet on a semi-regular basis with my youth pastor. During those meetings, he admitted that he was feeling frustrated about our group. We had a great, close-knit youth group… but Pastor Dave was always a bit dissatisfied because he felt like we were still missing something. We had great programs, a talented praise band, a top-notch staff of volunteer youth leaders, and students eager to be involved with the youth group. But some days it seemed like it was all about the youth group, and not so much about those outside our group.

    Pastor Dave came from the very evangelistic Youth Ministry 1.0, and the “inviting others in” aspect of evangelism was definitely missing from our church’s Youth Ministry 2.0 model.

    Looking back, I think it is safe to say that my youth pastor was longing for something in the past, dissatisfied about the present state of the youth ministry, and not sure of what to do next. How many of us are still feeling this unrest, years later?

  6. Man, why does everything have to be so point 1 ,2 or 3. Just love kids and do your best and show them Jesus in your life!! Preach the Jesus of the bible the Jesus that came to seek and save the lost from HELL! We want to make everything so feel good and so I understand that we forget whats really at stake here!!! Souls!!

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